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Put A Ring On It? (And by It, We Mean an MBA.)

The seed for pursuing my MBA was planted when I visited Harvard Business School during my first year of college.  In my eyes, the campus was breathtaking, the classroom discussion was stimulating and the students were welcoming professionals on a quest to become the next leaders in the business world. To put it simply, I was extremely impressed!  However, I wasn’t a 100% confident that pursuing an MBA was in my future.

It was a long road ahead before I felt extremely confident that earning an MBA was the next logical step in my professional career.  Deciding to take the leap of faith required personal reflection, research and planning.  So, as someone who’s asking, “Is it the right time to pursue my MBA,” my advice is to think through the following key questions to assess your readiness.

Questions to Ask Yourself

What are your “aha” moments regarding going back to school?

Throughout the application journey, you will be repeatedly asked “why an MBA, why now.” These can be a tough set of questions to nail down when initially thinking about whether it is a good idea to apply to business school but they are critical ideas to start framing long before signing up for the GMAT or selecting possible institutions of interest.

So to start, I encourage you to frame these questions a little bit differently, thinking through the “aha” moments you have had regarding your career. Guiding questions to start this process should include:

  • What academic, professional and personal experiences have defined your career to date?
  • How have your answers to (a) influenced / informed your career goals?
  • What skills and experiences do you believe you need to move the needle on your defined goals?

Answering these questions before making the decision to apply will go a long way with respect to formulating a personal story that will resonate with admission committees.

Overall, your pursuit of an MBA should be driven by a greater vision of how you wish to serve in the business ecosystem vs. simply taking a “break” from your professional career or a way to exit a “bad” job situation.  This vision probably will be refined as you move through the application process but having an anchoring viewpoint from the start is important.

Are you ready to be a student again?

While the transition to a graduate school environment is not as daunting as matriculating to college, it is a change that should be given some thought. By the time working professionals are thinking about pursuing an MBA, many have defined a set of lifestyle norms that will need to be adjusted once a student again.

Many who have earned their MBAs will say that you will only get out of your business school experience what you put in, so you must be willing to commit to significant hours of studying, continuous collaboration with a multitude of personalities as well as be socially open to making new connections with classmates, professors and business professionals.

Being a student can be like drinking from a fire hose at time, so you must be ready to commit to the fast pace of the experience.

Are you prepared to make the financial investment?

Attending business school is not cheap, with some two year, full-time programs exceeding $200K in costs.  Additionally, there’s the additional cost of lost income while in school if you are a full-time student. This can be a big nut to swallow. During my personal journey, getting to a “yes” to this question was probably the hardest part of my decision process.

Everyone’s situation is unique and you should take the time to think through how you will finance your MBA, including all the cost associated with the application process (i.e., standardized test prep, application fees, etc.).

For me, once I had a firm understanding of the value I would gain from the experience, I was able to think about the financial costs of my MBA as my “first mortgage” that, in the long run, would produce transformational returns, some which could not simply be measured in dollars and cents.

Are you willing to devote the time and effort necessary to submit a solid application?

I think most potential MBA candidates underestimate the time and effort it takes to produce a strong application that reflects an authentic story. The strongest applicants allocate enough time to:

  • Complete in-depth personal reflection on experiences to date and career goals (both short and long-term).  This is critical pre-work to order to make the right school selections and, in turn, drafting strong essays
  • Complete extensive research of potential programs, defining which schools fit their needs both professionally and personally
  • Develop a well-defined study plan for standardized tests, building in time to sit for an exam more than once, if needed
  • Carry out multiple rounds of essay revisions
  • Define their “board of directors”

So, you may be asking, “what is enough time”?  It is dependent on how many hours per week outside of work you can regularly devote to the application process.

And you must be honest with yourself, factoring in the demands of your current role.  Having a more demanding job usually means allocating a longer time horizon as you will only be able to spend a few hours per week on the application process.

Do you have a “board of directors” who will support you during the application process?

By now, you may be thinking this whole process is overwhelming. And I can attest that at times, it can be!! That’s why it is so important to ask yourself if you have people in your life to lean on for advice and support during this process. Some of the professional people on your personal advisory board may be ideal recommenders should you choose to move forward and apply to school.

It was a dream come true to graduate from HBS. However, I know this dream would not have become a reality if I didn’t do the work necessary to become confident that it was the right time for me.

The decision to apply to business school is truly personal decision and I encourage to use the presented framework to understand if it the right time to head back to academia.

Anna received her MBA from Harvard Business School and B.A. in Economics from Wellesley College. Most recently, she has worked in senior operational roles at early stage start-ups, including Rent The Runway and SWERVE Fitness. Anna is a proud native Chicagoan and for 15 years served as a trustee of The High Jump Program, an educational non-profit which aims to equalizes access to superior college preparatory schools for middle school students who have exhibited academic ambition and potential but come from limited economic means. She is an alumna of the High Jump Program. Anna is an expert coach with AdmitAdvantage.com and an expert on Admit.me

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